Loving The Forbidden Prince - Chapter 133 - What Really Was
“I have a bad feeling, Falek,” she whispered.
“The Father of Lights smiles on Etan, Ayleth,” he replied. “Focus on your role in this and allow him to do his.”
She nodded again, cursing herself for needing reassurance, or any kind of reminder at this moment.
As they walked into the shadow of the great Castle—Ayleth using the correct entrance, rather than climbing a trellis—they were met with four guards gathered at the gates to debrief and change shifts.
Falek muttered at her to wait, and called out to them. “Hail, brothers.”
“Captain!” All four turned and saluted as soon as they noticed him.
“We are only just returned to the castle,” he said, his voice warm and casual. Ayleth was stunned by his ability to hide the tension she knew coiled within him. “Can you tell us what has happened these past days while we have been in reflection?”
The four looked at each other. One grinned. “Very little, actually,” he said. “Things have been quiet as the Royals prepare for the Accord, and with the Heirs gone…”
Falek nodded, though Ayleth was sure he, like her, thought it odd that they didn’t mention the call for Etan to return. That kind of declaration would be the talk of the entire city.
“Have any of our fellow rulers caused problems while we’ve been away?” he asked quietly, looking around as if he wanted the men to keep him in confidence.
They all shook their heads, and the smiling one looked worried. “No. Not that we’ve heard.”
Falek looked at him sharply. “What of the Royal Decree for the Summitran heir to return from the Rite? Surely there must have been some fox among the chickens of our enemy’s camp?” he asked, as if he were confused.
The guards all blinked and looked at one another again. “There was no royal decree, Captain.”
“What?” Falek said, biting off the word. “The town we passed through on our way home… the locals…”
“Perhaps they jested?” the soldier offered. “We have heard nothing here. Not even rumors.”
The weight in Ayleth’s stomach turned cold. But she knew she could not appear to be too interested in anything to do with Summitras. Not yet. So she set her face blank and waited patiently for her Knight Defender to be ready to move on.
“Very well, perhaps you’re right. I suppose I should be glad our enemies weren’t creating strife while I had the Princess away. Thank you, men. As you were.”
He nodded and they saluted and then he and Ayleth were striding into the courtyard and towards the castle stairs again.
She didn’t miss that Falek walked faster now than he had before. As they passed under the great arch of the main Courtyard and into the Castle proper, Ayleth watched the passing servants, and nobles, smiling at them when needed, but keeping her voice low, beneath the echoing of the stone halls.
“Am I wrong that such a decree would only occur at the behest, or approval, of my parents?” she murmured as they turned into the main hallway.
Falek shook his head, scowling at the empty corridor.
Neither of them spoke, their heels clipping along on the stones in time, but punctuated by the passing of servants that emerged from stairways or rooms, always dropping into a curtsey or bow when they caught sight of the Princess and her Knight.
It was a full minute before they were alone enough to speak again. “I no longer wish to return to my rooms and bathe, Falek. I have a pinch between my shoulders. Something is not right. We need to find my mother.”
“I concur,” he said quietly.
Over the minutes that followed, he enquired as to the whereabouts of the King and Queen, claiming that the Princess wished to see them now that she was returned. They were pointed to the banquet hall where the royals were supposedly in preparation for the Peace Accord the following day.
But when they entered the great chamber through a side door, they found only Ayleth’s father, standing at the foot of the dais, hearing the reports from his council.
When he saw Ayleth, he interrupted his Chief Advisor to push between the men and come towards her.
“My daughter has returned!” he cried, walking towards her to pull her into an embrace.
Ayleth smiled and hugged him as they made greetings. But her stomach was flipping over as the King enquired as to her wellbeing, and Falek reported on an entirely false account of their time away in training and reflection.
She was stunned again by his smooth ability to deceive and made a mental note to ask him about it later when things were calmer.
“And how are the preparations coming for the Peace Accord?” Falek asked. “Did we miss any machinations from our… visitors?” Falek asked, looking around them as if to hide the question from others.
The King guffawed. “This blasted festival is more work than it’s worth,” he muttered, flapping a hand at all the men hovering behind him at the dais. “And now my wife has abandoned me to the vultures. I will be glad to see the back of them all.”
Falek nodded once. “Were my sources correct that the Summitrans were… at odds? Villagers on our return trip seemed to think the King called his son home?”
The King frowned. “If he did, he kept it quiet. We heard nothing of it.”
Ayleth’s stomach dropped to her toes.
What was going on?
But Falek only shrugged as if the news was of no great importance. “Well, I’ll remember not to listen to those from the smaller areas—no doubt someone recognized the Princess and sought to impress her.”
He made small talk with the King for a moment, then bid him farewell. “The Princess was eager to see you both before she bathed and prepared for the festivities. Where is the Queen, that I might take Ayleth to her?”
“I’m afraid you’ll need to use your eyes and ears for that one. My wife received a message half an hour ago and disappeared. She was smiling though, so at least I do not need to fear for my life,” he chuckled.
Ayleth began to shiver and covered it by turning away to look at the decorators while the two men made their goodbyes. Then she fareweled her father and followed Falek out—who walked even faster now.
As soon as they made it into the corridor, he began to look around to ensure they were far enough away from any others to speak without being overheard, his face tense and pained.
“The decree had to have been sent by your mother to tempt Etan back to the castle,” he said, his words low and hushed. “It was a trap we did not spring… unless…”
“Unless she’s already got to him.” Ayleth finished for him, swallowing a wave of nausea. “We have to find Borsche and Etan.. Now.”